Although the Supreme Court decided this case in May, 2014, the recent November 2014 elections remind us the Presidential election remains only 2 years away, and events similar to those in Wood v. Moss, which occurred at the time of President Bush’s election, may recur.
President Bush was campaigning for re election in Oregon and scheduled to spend the night in a small town. As he walked through the streets accompanied by Secret Service Agents, two groups followed him. One group was challenging the President for re election, and another group supporting him. Secret Service Agents were cooperating with local police for crowd control and trying to keep the distance between the two groups and the President roughly the same. At the last minute, the President changed his plans and entered a restaurant. The Secret Service Agents re positioned the two groups in their distance from the President.
The plaintiffs alleged a First Amendment violation of “viewpoint discrimination,” contending the Agents discriminated against them because their location was disabling them from seeing the President, as distinct from the supporting groups. Incredibly, the 9th Circuit agreed, not only on the viewpoint discrimination issue but also denied the agents qualified immunity allegedly having violated “clearly established” federal law.
A unanimous Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Agents could not necessarily equalize the distance between plaintiff’s group and the supporting group, particularly when the President changed his route without notifying them As to the qualified immunity argument, the Justices knew of no law “clearly established” under the circumstances and unanimously reversed this absurd 9th Circuit opinion.